Why Are Coal Miners Protesting Republicans in Alabama? Something’s Happening Here
I was born in a hospital in Walker County, Alabama in 1978. Even though coal mining was beginning to decline in my area I still carried the dust in my DNA. My father was born in a mining camp in 1949 and my grandfather broke his back in a mine in 1944. My other grandfather spent decades in a mine and drank himself to death in 1972.
It was a hard way of making a living and it’s still a hard way of making a living.
The reminders of the time were still there in my childhood as I rode my bus to school. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains were stripped bare and the old draglines and cable shovels were abandoned by the shuttered mines. I remember looking on in awe at the mammoth machines covered in rust sitting there as idle as the moment they were shut down years earlier.
Fast forward to today and 1,100 miners have been on strike for 8 months at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama just southwest of where I grew up. In a state as red as Alabama you would think Republican politicians would be falling all over themselves to support the coal miners, especially considering they love using them as props and talking points during election season. The current union contract was negotiated as Warrior Met emerged from the bankruptcy proceedings, with workers giving up a good deal of pay and benefits to keep the company afloat. Now that the company is profiting millions they don’t want to do right by the workers.
But an obvious fact is coming out here in Alabama that many have been well aware of for a while- The GOP loves coal mine owners not coal miners.
As opposed to Unions as Republicans are, and their continued efforts to weaken them to benefit business owners, that should surprise no one. In 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a promise to coal miners at a rally in West Virginia. “For those miners, get ready because you’re going to be working your asses off,” he told them.
There was no massive resurgence of coal mining jobs in his one term in office.
The popular narrative here in Alabama and elsewhere is that people on the left oppose coal mining and, as a result, coal miners. While there is definitely an effort to move towards cleaner energy options by people on the left, the latter is simply not true. Nearly every one of the folks who planned a fundraiser known as Alabama Strikefest to raise money for the striking miners in Brookwood were liberals and leftists. Nearly all of the nationally known talent who volunteered their time were liberals and leftists. They came in solidarity and helped raise over $70,000 in one day.
The miners in Brookwood mine metallurgical coal which is the only option for steel production we currently have in the world. There is potential in some options but that time isn’t here yet. I learned this as I spent time with miners at a weekly rally they hold to boost morale and allow folks to pick up food and produce organized by the local UMWA Auxiliary. I also heard a lot of the same things I heard from other miners at Alabama Strikefest a few weeks earlier. I was told the goal for most is a good job with good benefits that gives them the dignity of work. Others said they didn’t care if they were mining coal or making solar panels. They just needed a good job.
With that information, one of my fellow staffers at Hometown Action convinced the Sierra Club to do a donation drive for the striking miners. The massive environmental group raised thousands of dollars in support of the miners and their families. They may be against coal mines but they aren’t against the miners. They want alternatives to what the miners do but they want them as human beings to be taken care of until the days of clean energy and green jobs get here.
On the day I arrived to drop off the fundraiser check, I was struck by the fact the people showing up with funds to support the miners were our progressive organization Hometown Action, the Alabama NAACP, Birmingham environmentalist group G.A.S.P., and the Alabama Democratic Party. The Birmingham chapter of Democratic Socialists raised $4,000 for the strike pantry.
The head of the Alabama Democratic Party, Chris England, has been a vocal advocate for the striking miners and has taken official stands to call on Warrior Met to negotiate a fair contract with the miners. Meanwhile the GOP leaders in Alabama have been silent.
As a result, the miners have gathered as I am typing this at the Alabama state capitol building to protest Republican Governor Kay Ivey and other political leaders inaction and call on them to act in support of workers in Alabama.
I am certain the actions of folks who are standing in solidarity with the striking miners are challenging the propaganda and words of those who claim to support the coal miners, but who have been as quiet as a stone for eight months as the families are struggling through the strike, and who have also stood idly by as tax dollars have been used through State Trooper escorts of replacement scabs into the mines. The Alabama GOP has remained silent as an Alabama judge issued an injunction against the miners and blocked them from picketing at the entrances to the mine.
UMWA 2245/2368 Auxiliary President Haeden Wright explained the protest effort at the state capitol today:
“The protest and picketing today in Montgomery is in response to Governor Kay Ivey and other political leaders’ refusal to acknowledge or support the working people of this state. We are calling for answers as to why tax dollars paid for by the working people are being used for security and escorts for a private corporation who sends its massive profits to other states and who are bringing in out of state scabs to take Alabamians livelihoods.”
The Republicans have a supermajority in both the Alabama House and Senate as well as holding the Governor’s seat. Rather than supporting the miners and workers in Alabama they have given tacit approval of the coal company through their silence and outright approval by having state troopers escort scabs into the mines as Alabama workers, who only want what they were promised, look on.
Haeden Wright also explained, however, that the flip side to that hurt and frustration is the beautiful solidarity shown to the miners by complete strangers from all over the United States.
“We may have been on strike for eight months but joy and light can always be found even when the days seem dark. Even when we face our constitutional rights being violated we are encouraged by those who share encouragement and aid. I have witnessed true solidarity and mutual aid. I have seen people set aside differences to come together and fight for what is right and not what is easy. Our fellow union brothers and sisters have also rallied around us and not only donated money, but travelled to stand in solidarity with us.”
So in this — and in the past when it comes to coal mining — there have been a lot of words. But it is the actions of folks, as always, that will speak the loudest. In a time of hyper-polarization, and as media grifters manipulate the masses for profit, it is the work of the people that will speak the loudest.
Right now there are over a thousand miners in Alabama who need your support as they take on a massive corporation. I encourage you to take action as well because these efforts of solidarity will not only challenge the current popular narratives of left versus right, but they will bear fruit in the future as people truly see who supports them and the well being of their families. That is far more powerful than any political ad, rally, or cable news sound bite.
For those who want to help you can donate to the Strike Pantry and help with Christmas for the families HERE
We have to show up for the people and keep showing up for them and that is what will change things not only in Alabama but everywhere else where people struggle far from the spotlight. I stand in solidarity with the striking miners in Brookwood, Alabama. I encourage you to do the same.